No More Traffic Stops: Police Reform that Could Change Everything

Updated 4/12/21: In light of the recent events involving Daunte Wright and Minnesota (!) police, this article deserves another look.

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Every single one of us, young, old, rich, poor, white, non-white, city, suburb, bedroom or rural – every single one of us has had an experience with an asshole cop. Most of use have had several. And, that experience almost always began with a bullshit traffic stop.

We know what a bullshit traffic stop is: Tinted windows, no front plate, “illegal” lane change, failure to signal, speeding with no one around, not coming to a “full” stop (aka: the California Roll), jaywalking. Fix-it tickets: Expired registration, broken headlight. These are known as revenue-raisers. You’re more likely to get one toward the end of the month, or the end of a shift, when cops need to fulfill their quota…oh, I mean their “suggested minimum” for traffic tickets.

We know how this works: He pulls you over. (He’s always alone, and so are you). He won’t tell you why you were pulled over. He demands your license, registration, and then walks around the car looking for stuff that could or might be fine-worthy. If nothing is fine-worthy, he asks if you’ve been drinking or using drugs. When you are offended and alarmed, he pokes you again saying you seem “agitated” are you sure you’re not under the influence? (He still hasn’t told you why you were pulled over.) Here it comes now: Step out of the vehicle….do you mind if I search the car? This will make it easier for you…

Any of this sounding familiar?

The multitude of videos showing police harassing, threatening, and ultimately shooting black men and women too often begins with one thing: They were pulled over by a lone, white male cop for some bullshit traffic stop.

If we truly want to stop police violence, we need to do the following:

Remove Revenue Raising and “Suggested Minimums”

States and other municipalities use traffic fines as revenue for their general fund. Why? Unlike raising taxes, it doesn’t require a public vote or legislative debate. Legislatures can silently increase fines, and increase the suggested minimum number of tickets written. This way of funding our government must end.

Making matters worse, for many smaller, cash-strapped communities, these fines are used to fund the budgets of the police departments who are writing these tickets!! This is why we have money for radar guns, but no funds to process rape kits. Moreover, the whole idea of using civil penalties as a primary revenue source for municipality is problematic. It’s clear that what was intended to be a financial disincentive has now become a mechanism for extortion and abuse.

Governments could easily end traffic tickets as a form of revenue raising.

The mission of cops is to protect and serve. They are also supposed to investigate crime. Setting up speed traps and writing traffic tickets fulfills neither of these goals. Moreover, most cops aren’t all too keen on writing tickets anyway – that’s not why they became a cop. What they do like is that bullshit traffic stops give them a multitude of subjective, yet “legitimate” reasons to detain anyone they want.

Speed Limits and Stop Signs Should be Suggested

This is a long held Libertarian battle cry whose time has finally come. I realize that many find this akin to anarchy. However, I would remind you that most people love their cars (and the people in them), and understand that speed limits and stop signs, and other traffic directions are there for the common good and our safety. I think we also know that people abide – or don’t abide– whether there’s a cop present or not.

While it’s easy to get lost in the legislative details of this one, let’s just say this: We, as a citizenry, don’t care too much about speeding and traffic violations. If we did, we wouldn’t be depending on individuals in cars to randomly enforce those violations. With the prevalence of drones, cameras, GPS, tracking devices, and live-stream video, there’s absolutely zero reason for any human being to have to pull-over another human being to issue a hand-written ticket — a ticket that is based on one individual’s “eye-witness” judgement. Again, a structure designed for extortion and abuse.

Stop Asking People to “Step Out of the Car”

Another commonality of many of these cop killings is the cop insists the driver and passengers “Step out of the car.”

Every cop in America knows that an individual has the right to remain in the vehicle unless you are being arrested. (Which is why he’s insisting that you appear under the influence of drugs. See: Intro paragraph above for shake down details).

Once you step out of your car, you are in the most danger you could possibly be.

Time and time again, we see black men and women politely refusing to leave the vehicle – that is their right! The refusal infuriates the cop/bully, an argument ensues, and the cop shoots you because he “felt” you were being “threatening” to him.

Once you step out of your car, you are in the most danger you could possibly be. You are being threatened and bullied by an angry man with weapons. You are almost always alone. You’re often being kicked, shoved, and yelled at, black men are almost immediately hand cuffed – and for what? An “illegal” lane change? Everything about human nature kicks in now – fight or flight – in both cases, you’re going to get shot.

It’s easier to shoot you when you’re outside the car. Regardless, in the case of Philando Castile he was shot inside his vehicle in front of his girlfriend and child.

Any cop who tells you to get out of your car during a traffic stop should be fired. Not given a warning, or sensitivity training, or administrative leave. Fired. Immediately.

Stop asking to “Search the Vehicle”

This is another no-brainer. Under no circumstances should a traffic stop and vehicle search be part of the same interaction. You need a warrant and that warrant requires a judge to approve that you have probable cause. A traffic stop is not probable cause. Cops need to stop threatening people to “give their permission.”

Always do what the cop says, after all, you’ve got nothing to hide, right? If you have a problem with his actions, you can “hash it out” in court was the sage advice offered by a former NYC cop. This is white people fairly tale bullshit …

Cops plant drugs, cops plant weapons. Cops should not be sniffing around your car without a warrant. It’s proven bad for your health.

Any cop who is insisting that you permit him to search your vehicle and/or threatens to arrest you or tow your vehicle because you refused to let him search your car during a traffic stop should be fired. Not given a warning, or sensitivity training, or administrative leave. Fired. Immediately.

Who are you? Why did you stop me?

This is another no-brainer change in protocol. The first thing a cop should do is hand the driver a card with his ID and contact info, and then tell the driver exactly why he has detained him. I should not have to provide my “papers.” This isn’t Nazi Germany. I have the right of free movement. If you’ve stopped me, you must tell me why, and you must tell me immediately.

Any cop who is insisting that you provide him identification before he tells you why you are being detained, or any cop who refuses to provide you the reason why you a being being detained (after you’ve asked, repeatedly) should be fired. Not given a warning, or sensitivity training, or administrative leave. Fired. Immediately.

Protect and Serve or Hassle and Fine?

Dallas Police Chief, David Brown, has it right: We’re asking police to do too much. They are forced to deal with homelessness, mental illness, drug problems, fucked-up relationships. These are serious social issues that demand our attention, but they are not criminal behavior. Broken tail lights, expired registration, tinted windows? These are civil statues, not criminal behavior. Why are the police involved at all?

We need to separate the enforcement of civil penalties from the prevention and investigation of criminal behavior

Now is the time. We MUST tightly define and limit the scope of the police. We can do this by removing the revenue incentive that is insidiously intertwined with traffic “law” enforcement. A rolling stop is not a criminal act. And we also must fire those “Bad Apples” who don’t play by the rules. Laws are for everyone, including the cops.

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Copyright 2021 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

Why Consultants Fail

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I stress how the relationship between you and your client is not the same as you and an employer. The risk involved in consulting is considerable – especially if your task involves bringing change to a mature organization.

Here’s one of the main reasons consultants fail:

I Can’t Lose Weight for You

In many ways, being a consultant is like being a personal trainer. As your trainer, I do want you to lose weight and get fit; but if you don’t follow any of my advice nor do any of the work, there’s not a lot I can do for you. I’m still here, and I’m still billing you for my time, but instead of making progress, you’re crying about how you can’t fit into any of your clothes. Worse: Now you have an attitude! You’ve spent a whole bunch of money, aren’t losing weight, and that’s because I’m not a good trainer!

Consultants aren’t the only ones who deal with the unwillingness of others to change. Very often, companies hire employees to be their internal “experts.” These employees are tasked with implementing change, and take a consultative-approach to help the company modernize and upgrade.

Unfortunately companies, much like individuals, mis-over-estimate their desire and their capacity for change.

Depending on the maturity-level of the organization that miscalculation could be as harmless as a few missed deadlines because decisions were not made in a timely manner, or as significant as a corporate proxy battle to remove the key stakeholder(s) of a transformation project.

In almost all scenarios, it’s the “change agent” who takes the fall. The business group or executive leadership rarely accepts responsibility for the lack of progress. In their mind, they hired you to help them lose weight, and they’re still fat. YOU failed to find the right solution for them. End of story. You pull out your spreadsheet of missed gym dates, point to the candy wrappers in the trash can, and remind them that you are indeed there to help, but you cannot lose weight for them. This doesn’t exactly sink in if the client thinks that shopping for yoga pants is the same as going to yoga class.

No one wants to feel that they are bad at their job. No matter what your circumstance, employees and consultants alike grow weary of being blamed by the fat and lazy for the fact that they are fat and lazy. Ultimately, we either resign ourselves to the job of handing you tissues and peanut butter cups, or we move on to a more committed client.

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Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

So…You Want to Be a “Consultant”?

I’ve worked as a contractor, consultant, and direct employee. Each of these relationships is different; none of them is perfect. Are you ready to ditch your FTE and become a consultant? Here’s a few things to think about….

Can You Run a Business?

I’ve met hundreds of talented individuals who are terrible business people. Consider the great doctor who can’t manage or afford his/her private practice. The finish carpenter who can’t accurately bid out a project or generate an invoice. The full-stack software architect with no ability to write a statement of work or manage a project.

This is where I hear, “Ohh, puh-leeze, I’ll hire someone for that!” to which I respond, “Oh, puh-leeze, no one is interested in working for you!” (Small shops are not competitive employers – don’t think you can hire “some kid” to manage your website). Moreover, hiring help entails huge legal and financial responsibilities, and BTW, where are you going to come up with a weekly salary and benefits and pay taxes when you have one client and can barely support yourself?

Consider the following activities:

  • Marketing/Sales: Finding, qualifying, and pipelining new clients; promoting the business. You.
  • Legal: Licenses, in$urance, banking, taxes. You.
  • $oftware: Updates, equipment, desktop troubleshooting, web page(s), WiFi, Cloud storage. You.
  • Finance: Contracts, proposals, invoices, time cards. You.
  • Overhead: Office rent, supplies, printer cartridges, computers. You.
  • Benefits: Vacations, holidays, sick days, medical insurance, family leave. You.

And that’s before you do any real “billable” client work – which is often >40 hours per week, more if you are juggling multiple projects.

If you read that list and thought, “Ugh!” stay an employee.

Can You Run a Project?

Do you track your time? Do you track your money? Are you disciplined and organized in your personal life? Can you put together a schedule? Can you write a contract? What about a statement of work? Can you track, measure, and demonstrate progress? Can you make a deadline? Can you manage change and say no to difficult people?

When I meet with clients who are dealing with failed projects, high turn-over, and assorted other maladies, my first question is this: How does the team track their time? (They don’t.) Do YOU track your time? (Answer: I’m an “executive.”) Then, I get a big lecture about how hard everyone works, and they don’t have time to track their time.

Here’s my point:

I wasn’t questioning their work ethic, I was questioning their activities.

The inability to assess the value of activities as it relates to time expended is why people fail at consulting – and fail at a whole bunch of other stuff as well.

When you’re a consultant – time is EVERYTHING. Billable time, bizdev time, vacation time, career development time, commute time. And, there’s other things that take your time: Laundry. Food prep. Cleaning. Video Games. Your relationship(s). Did I mention the kids? You’ll need to manage ALL your time like the precious, finite, resource it is. That means you need to say, “I’m sorry, but that’s not a good use of my time,” even to your spouse.

Are You a Push-Over?

If you suffer from people pleasing, or have a hard time saying no, I beg you: For the sake of your personal health, personal finances, and happiness do NOT become a consultant!

Consulting is not all Power Point presentations and conference rooms with killer views. Consultants are small business owners, project managers, and buzz-kill realists. To be one requires a certain amount of cold, capitalist, callousness. How will you handle scope creep? Can you give bad news? Can you graciously deal with getting fired? (coz you will be). What about your ethics? Can you graciously dump a client (coz you’ll need to).

You want to run with the big dogs? You’re going to get pissed on. Consultants don’t have a boss, or HR, or a union, or labor laws – you have client and a contract. What are you going to do if they don’t honor it?

Are You Just Assuming You’ll Get Paid?

Very early on in my career, I worked for a couple of unscrupulous salesmen who refused to reimburse me for almost $2K in travel expenses I had foolishly put on my personal American Express card. This was back in the ’90’s, so that was a LOT of money then, and even more for an irresponsible 20-something who didn’t even have a savings account.

Although I eventually got my money, this whole thing was a huge financial fiasco, and it took me a l-o-n-g time to recover from it. These guys had let me go on Christmas Eve (for real), no severance, no final paycheck. I had to borrow money from family to pay AmEx and rent and bills. I had to go to court to get commissions, expenses, and back wages due me; and I had to freeze their bank account to collect. All of this taught me very important lesson:

No one is more unpleasant than someone who owes you money.

When you are a consultant, you’re a vendor. You don’t have the same legal protections that you would as a W2 employee. Consider the Crystal Geyser guy. If the customer decides to go with Sparkletts, Crystal Geyser doesn’t file for unemployment. If the delivery truck gets stolen, Crystal Geyser still has to service their accounts. They don’t call and ask their customers to buy them a new truck and front them for water.

An employee must be paid no less than twice a month. But you’re not an employee, so your clients will want you to bill every 30 days, and then pay you in 30 days – just like they do all their other vendors. But, what if they don’t pay you? What if they’re late? What if they disagree with the invoice? How long are you prepared to work without being paid? A week? Two weeks? A month? Three months? What if they claim your work is defective and refuse to pay? What about travel? Are you putting that on your personal credit card? What if they don’t reimburse you or take months to do so? What are you going to do about it?

I’ve worked for big, corporations my entire life.

You’d be amazed how many rich companies don’t pay their bills on time.

When you truly work for yourself, you can’t put up with excuses. Other people’s bills, emergencies, sick kids, corporate “process” and vacation time is NOT your problem. If you can’t write clear acceptance criteria for your work, can’t say no, or could never see yourself suing someone, don’t waste time trying to be consultant. I’ve listened to lots of people (mostly women, I’m sorry to say), who thought they could handle this kind of relationship, and ended up being taken advantage of by someone who was really, really, going to pay them when <crisis> passed.

When you consult, you need to track your time and tasks, keep copies of all your work, be prepared to withhold work until you’re paid for it, be prepared to walk out if you’re not paid, and be prepared to sue.

If you have a tough time sticking up for yourself, can’t handle people’s anger, or just can’t be “mean,” being a consultant is absolutely NOT for you!

Final Thoughts

Do you want to consult, or do you want more control over your scope and the direction of your career? Do you want to consult, or do you want more free time?

If you’re a full-time employee, and if you’re wondering if consulting could be for you, I strongly encourage you take a few contract, “temp” jobs. This will give you a feeling for what it’s like to have a client instead of a boss, and also give you some practice at managing the scope of your work and duration of your project.

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

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Copyright 2021 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

Take-Aways from TechCrunch Robotics+AI

I attended the TechCrunch Robotic+AI conference at UC Berkeley last month. I’m in tech, but not in this kind of tech; I went to learn more.

The conference had a number of interesting speakers and exhibitors, and gave me a lot to think about. Here are a few take-aways….

Solution in Search of a Problem

The conference was stuffed full with super-smart people who want to build robots. What many would-be robo-teers don’t have is a clear idea of is what, exactly, the robot should do. I’ll admit I was a bit surprised by this early admission, but when I thought about my experience in application development, I agreed that the need for product owners, designers, artists, and SMEs with strategic vision is essential to the successful project/product. Building robots is no exception.

The verticals that will first benefit from robotics: Big agg (already on the leading edge); manufacturing (of course), healthcare (which could benefit from more technology in general) and the home which, given the complexity and commonality of house and yard work, is the most difficult to solve, but potentially the most lucrative.

The irony is that in a room filled with “hard science” people, what they desperately needed were those fluffy “soft science” majors: artists, sculptors, designers, anthropologists, occupational therapists, science fiction writers — someone to guide the linear thinking robo-teers to other life forms. Liberal arts is art for a reason.

Robots Need to Complete the Task – Not Create New Ones

Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot, had perhaps the best insight into what it takes to bring a robot to market successfully. Colin left college with a burning desire to build robots; however, he did not become successful until he “started selling selling vacuums ….” He cautioned that it’s not enough that a robot be cool, it cannot add additional tasks or complexity if humans are going to buy one. Robot designers must understand that simply automating the existing task is not enough – they must completely re-think how the task can be accomplished – by a machine – a machine that doesn’t usually have legs or hands.

I was a Gen1 Roomba owner. I loved that the Roomba vacuumed my house, but what was the point if I had to charge, clean and find the thing? Not surprisingly, iRobot had this same realization, which drove improvements in subsequent iterations. The Roomba is now self-docking, charging, cleaning – and cats still love it.

I’m not sure how many cats will be riding their latest product, Terra, a robotic lawn mower, which looks to be thoughtfully designed in addition to being super-cool. No lawn in my Mediterranean landscape, but I did buy some iRobot stock.

Common Platform

Another “yeah, duh!” moment for me was Nvidia’s VP of Engineering, Claire Delaunay introducing the Isaac SDK robotic platform. If you think back to the pre-smart phone dark-ages, you’ll recall that it was the release of the common mobile platform(s) that provided global developers the ability to build flashlights into the future. Robotics is in a similar state of evolution. Claire explained that delivering robotic intelligence has been deterred by a lack of unified platforms for software and hardware development.

Nvidia’s Isaac SDK robotic platform wants you to come build, and there were quite a few people at the Nvidia development workshop who intend to do just that.

Robots Are Coming for Your Job

Ahhhhhhh…..Not anytime soon.

Perhaps the best thing about this conference was the reaffirmation of the amazing human body. The ability to walk, balance, process and instantaneously reprocess new information, muscle memory. No robots for this – not even close. At the end of the day, AI is still an algorithm.

Consider the task of sorting tomatoes or picking strawberries. The ability of the human hand to immediately detect the softness, firmness of the fruit, adjust one’s grip, scan swaths of fruit moving on a belt, detect blemishes, defects, size, ripeness. Toss a sub-par piece of fruit aside (and we’re talkin’ two hands here) while having a conversation with a co-worker. The millions of decisions and actions taken by the body and brain (not to mention breathing and keeping your heart beating) is simply miraculous.

Robots are good with hard stuff – no strawberry pickers here – consistent sizes, repetitive motions, they all have wheels, they need smooth surfaces. Legs can navigate irregular surfaces, climb stairs, slide into Warrior 3. Robots can’t rebalance or adjust to change; they must have consistency. If the task has multiple variations, the robot’s effectiveness is limited or terminated.

Augmentation

The ability to replace humans is much less realistic than the ability to augment their movements. This is where prosthetics and other Iron Man devices really capture the imagination.

For me, the most compelling story was presented by Manmeet Maggu CEO from Tréxō Robotics. Manmeet explained that his journey began with the discovery that his nephew had cerebral palsy. While searching for solutions that could help him walk, he was disappointed to find that exoskeletons were designed for adults not growing children.

Manmeet and his friend Rahul (both studied robotics at the University of Waterloo) set out to change that. Their current product is designed to help children with disabilities walk. The technology provides the wearer a repetitive, physiologically correct gait, which enables a child to exercise by walking.

I loved everything about this. Unlike a Battle-Bot, it meets a real market need. It can be adjusted to each individual. The product exists IRL, and can be purchased or leased. Well done.

Robotic Buzz-Kills

China, not surprisingly, is leading the way in robotics technology. There were cautions to be protective of IP, and that those who choose to partner with Chinese companies should not skimp on lawyers. VC in robotics is also challenging. The ROI period for a robotics start up is long (10+ years), and their burn rate can be much higher than a software startup due to the complexity of industrial design, prototyping, and integration. This isn’t Angry Birds – you need to be ready for the long haul.

AI Thoughts

Brevity dictates my take-aways focus on the robotics side of the conference; however, the AI talks were also compelling. Be warned: Fake news will join Deep Fakes making the policing of social media platforms even more challenging. No doubt, we will see these forces invade our 2020 election cycle like a hoard of White Walkers into Winterfell.

Implicit bias, and other discussions of ethics are important topics of the day, and could easily be a whole separate conference.

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While the Berkeley campus was a bit inconvenient, it likely kept the cost of the event down, and was a nice change from usual hotels and convention centers.

Looking forward to Disrupt in October.

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Copyright 2019 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. Have a question ? Email me at info@piercewharton.com.

You JUST Lost Your Job* How NOT to Freak Out!

When you lose your job, you lose control over a big part of your life.  It’s this lack of control that feeds the anxiety we all feel when we are between gigs.  We don’t have a daily routine. We don’t have control over our finances.  We don’t know how much time we have before we start back at work.  It’s hard to make plans.  Being in a state of limbo is frustrating; being worried about money doesn’t help.

If you’re new to unemployment, the loss of control is a much bigger emotional challenge than the task of finding a new job. Trust me, you WILL find another job!  Nevertheless, being without a job is a huge disruption to a well-established life routine. Without a job, people struggle to structure their day, some find they can’t, and so begins the downward spiral. The time passes quickly (another thing over which you have no control).  You become more anxious and irritable (or blue and withdrawn), which only compounds the feelings of helplessness.

If you can control it, do so. If you can’t, let it go.

Worrying isn’t action.

Of course, you can – and should – do everything possible to look for a job but you cannot control when you’ll actually go back to work.  Focus on what you can control – which is everything else in your life.

Keep Your Routine

Get out of bed the same time you did when you were employed; it’s too easy to let the morning slip by sleeping in.  Get up, clean up, get dressed. Use the time you would have spent commuting to take the dog out for a walk, hit the gym, or an early morning yoga class before settling down to your computer.

Don’t lie to yourself that you have time, and will do it “later.” We know how that conversation ends, right?  Keep your morning routine. It ensures you are more productive when you’re unemployed, and the structure will help you easily settle back into your new routine when you get back to work.

Lose Some Weight

You can’t make any excuses for being a slug. You didn’t make it out for a walk today because…. You didn’t go to the gym because…. Why? You’re sooo busy? Really?  Busy doin’ what? You DON’T have a job!

Similarly, the largest part of our discretionary income goes to food.  If you’re between jobs, you have zero reason not to prepare food from scratch.  Pull out the recipe books, plan your menu(s), prepare your food, and actually do some cooking! Eating well is good for your weight, good for your budget, and good for your relationship.  If your SO is working, coming home to a nice meal (rather than you lying on the sofa playing Fortnite), will make arguments about how you spent your day far less likely.

Similarly, resist the temptation to party like a rock star on school nights.  Having an occasional late night is small consolation for being out of work, but don’t make it a habit. Hangovers make you sluggish, irritable, and if you’re blue about being unemployed, it will make it worse.

Nothing will make you feel less confident and more out of control than being bloated, over-weight, hung-over, AND unemployed! You have the time to develop better habits, and zero reason not to do so. Don’t drink too much; don’t sooth yourself with food.  You’ll feel and look a LOT more confident if your energy is high, and your interview clothes are a bit loose.

Clean that !@#$%!! Up!

Looking for a job is going to take a decent amount of your time, but it’s not going to take every second of your day.  Put together a list – yeah, write it down – of stuff you need to do in your home.  Rank things by cost and level of effort.  Do all the cheap/easy stuff first.  Cleaning, organizing, and painting just about anything is always good.

Whether you get your inspiration from Hoarders or Marie Kondo, knocking out chores around the house is a great use of downtime.  Nothing will make you feel better about yourself and more in control of your world than walking into a clean, tidy and organized room. #focus

Taking care of things around your house is great, but so helping out a friend or family member. You’ve got time. Go see your grandmother.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of whether you knew it was coming or it was unexpected, anytime you lose a job – even if it was a job you hated – it’s upsetting.  If you’ve been working at the same place for a long time, you’ll feel overwhelmed by just the thought of interviewing for work and petrified at the idea of starting all over again.  All of these emotions are very normal, but I can assure you that they are temporary. You will find another job and you will get past this.

Focus on what you can control.  By doing this, you’ll find that your down-time is more productive, more enjoyable, and when you go back to work, you will be, too!

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Excerpted from: The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker. Copyright 2019 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC.  All rights reserved.  No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

Are you new to the job market or considering contract work? Have a question for me? Email at info@piercewharton.com.

Four Ways to Blow your Interview (*for employers)

 Podcast Available on Spotify

I’ve gone on lots of interviews where – at first – I was very excited to be there, but as I watched, listened, asked questions (took and compared notes), that excitement quickly fizzled.

Twenty years ago, there wasn’t much to do about it. There were few jobs and many people who wanted them. It was incumbent upon job seekers to convince employers to hire them; the applicant’s opinion of the job – for the most part – was of little concern. That’s not the case anymore. Now, employers are dealing with both a cultural and economic shift in the global market for talent. For the first time (ever), labor actually has a bit of an advantage in the labor market. The shoe is finally on the other foot: Employers (who used to interview applicants), are now being interviewed by applicants, and a lot of them are blowing the interview!

 Consider the following:

1. What Employers Say…

“This is a tough place to work; you have to have a thick-skin to work here…..”

~What the Applicant Hears…

We foster a culture of disrespect and verbal abuse. Expect to be run over because having an opinion or self-respect will get you fired.

I get the “thick-skin” comment in about 30% of my interviews. This tells me “Bro-House.” Women are subordinate, fart jokes abound, loud voices win, bullying is leadership.

At first I thought thick-skin comments were gender specific (or maybe I seem delicate), but I decided to asked around, and I’m happy to report that guys get the “thick-skin” comment about as often as I do! Whoo-whoo! Hooray for equality! It’s good to know that some companies treat everyone poorly, not just women!

Respect is like air. When there’s enough of it around, no one notices. If there’s a shortage, it’s all you’re gonna think about….

2. What Employers Say…

“I see you’ve changed jobs every couple years. We want someone who will stay….”

~What the Applicant Hears…

This is a dead-end job, and we churn through a lot of people. We’d prefer to hire someone with little ambition who’s happy just to have a paycheck.

Are you ambitious? Do you care about your career and remaining current? Are you interested in learning new skills and growing? Because if you are, this isn’t the place for you.

3. What Employers Say…

“I see you haven’t worked in this <domain>…”

“I noted you don’t have this <credential>…”

“I saw you don’t have this <skill>…”

~What the Applicant Hears…

I’ll need to deal with nit-picky criticism and being dismissed because I’m not good enough. If this employer does make an offer, it will be under market because, well, I’m hardly qualified to work here in the first place! If I’m desperate enough to take the job, I’ll be reminded that I’m less than, and that everyone generously looked passed my woeful credentials.

Note to Interviewers: You went through the trouble to bring someone in for a face-to-face (sometimes in front of a panel). Now, you’re going to call out – one by one – all their perceived shortcomings? Focus on what they can do. You had their resume, you saw their LinkedIn… if they’re not qualified, why did you bring them in?

4. What Employers Say…

“I see that you have some gaps in your employment. For example, in <randomyears>, you only worked for part of the year. What’s that all about….?!?”

~What the Applicant Hears…

I’m more interested in your personal life, and nosing around your health, family, and finances than I am in your work experience, skills, education, and how those qualifications are applicable to the opportunity I have available. Your professional background is less important than my moral approval of you and your life choices.

My father died, I wanted to take some time off. I had a baby, I wanted a more flexible job. I was laid off, I wanted to spend time with my kids and re-think my career. I spent a year designing and building my custom home. I was working on a patent. I had major surgery. My mother has Alzheimer’s, and I needed to care for her…

At best, my personal life is none of your business, at worst you’re seeking to circumvent employment laws that prohibit questions of this nature. An interview is to discuss work – stay on topic…

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For employers: Whenever you are in a position to hire (and pay) someone, it’s natural to feel a little entitled. And while we all seek qualified labor, remember that you’re not the only game in town. If you want the best people, your hubris is counter-productive to building a high-performing team. Your culture needs to be one of partnership, not entitlement.

For applicants: A job is a relationship, and the interview is like a first date. Spend less time thinking about how to impress people and pretending to be someone you’re not, and more time listening and asking thoughtful questions. That way if the position is offered, you and your client/employer can feel confident that you are both making the right decision.

running away

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Copyright 2019 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

How to Evaluate Your Boss

People leave managers, not companies. Be sure you hire a good boss. When workers have a good manager, they will often accept lower wages. When people quit, they’re firing you. You can’t put a price on a great boss…..

Nothing I just said is new. But, despite all the well-intentioned talent acquisition and retention initiatives embarked upon by company recruiters, I’ve yet to encounter any organization who routinely surveys a manager’s direct reports for feedback on his/her performance.

The answer as to “Why?” staff don’t evaluate managers ranges from the complex (cultural of hierarchy, management v. labor, men v. women), to the paternalist notion that a job is a “gift” that your corporate “family” gives you and you should be grateful for their kindness (versus the negotiated sale of your labor to a disinterested company who then sells the fruits of that labor to a 3rd party for a tidy profit), to the simplistic — but very real possibility of – retribution. All topics for another day.

Most of us are given a boss; we don’t get to choose one. However, if you find yourself in a position to evaluate your potential manager (or feel the need to leave an anonymous note on someone’s desk), here are ten questions to help focus your review:

True or False

~I know my boss always represents me and my skills in the best light.

~I trust that my boss is a strong advocate for me and my career.

~I believe that my boss is an effective advocate for my team.

~If there are changes or meetings with my client/workgroup, my boss informs me of the nature of the meetings so we can discuss how it might affect me or my work.

~My boss seeks to understand fully my situation or problem before s/he offers advice.

~My boss respects my work and appreciates the role I play within the company.

~My boss seeks my advice or input before making decisions that directly affect my job or affect our clients/customers.

~When I have a problem or situation I cannot handle, I am comfortable seeking advice and mentorship from my boss.

~If I were traveling with my boss, and we were stuck in an airport, s/he would make the time there better and easier.

~If I were in a position to hire my boss, I would.

What do all these questions have in common? Integrity. Respect. Leadership. These aren’t skills, they’re qualities, values. You got ’em, you practice them, or you don’t. Leaders inspire others to follow, they don’t tell people what do do. There’s no such thing as contextual integrity. You don’t get to be a great boss being respectful most of the time……

Whenever I interview with a prospective manager, I always ask, “If I were with your team at a happy hour, what would they say about you?” I’ve gotten answers that range from the hostile to obtuse…few have shown any genuine insight in one’s character, never mind management style. We all know how important a good boss is. Maybe the time has come to finally shift our focus from top down to bottom up?

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Copyright 2018 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. info@piercewharton.com.

W2 or C2C?

One of the questions I get asked most often from those considering contract work is whether to work as a W2 contractor or should they incorporate so they can bill corp-to-corp (C2C).  The answer is – it depends – and it mostly depends on you.

If you are going to contract long term, or you have a particular expertise that you sell, eventually you will move from working as a W2 Contract Employee to working as an Independent / Incorporated contractor or consultant.  Being independent means that you could be billing on a 1099 basis or you could be incorporated and use your corporation to bill the agent or client corp-to-corp (C2C).  Being independent means you are viewed as a business, which is a separate legal entity from yourself. When you’re independent, you have all the privileges and responsibilities of a business owner. “Responsibilities” is the key word here:  If you choose either 1099 or C2C, you will take home a lot more money than you would as a W2 Employee. But if you are not prepared to handle the responsibilities of being self-employed, mo’ money mo’ problems.

Whether you are a sole proprietor, in a partnership, or a principal of a corporation, if you are deriving “Schedule C” income, you are responsible for obtaining business licenses, paying business taxes, keeping accurate records, maintaining general liability, and other types of insurance.  If you’re working as a vendor, you may need to purchase and maintain your own tools, equipment, prepare your own contracts, invoices, and track your payables and receivables. Some clients will provide you a 1099 form for taxes; some do not. Sometimes they’re accurate; sometimes not.  Regardless, you are responsible for an audit trail of your gross receipts and expenses, maintaining bank records, and insuring you adhere to all applicable laws. You need to be prepared to prove everything if there is a discrepancy, and there will be.

When you are independent or incorporated, you are a vendor. Instead of a job description, you have a statement of work (SOW). The SOW details what you are to accomplish for the client, a time frame for doing so, and what the payment and acceptance criteria are. SOWs can be very general or very specific. Its specificity varies by the complexity of the project and your relationship with the client.

When you are a vendor, the client cannot dictate the means by which you complete your work.  So, if you wanted to assembly your PB&J in a different order in your kitchen that is your prerogative. The client can only accept or reject the work.

Most importantly, if you are billing as an independent or incorporated contractor, you do NOT have the same legal protections as you would as a W2 contractor. You are a vendor, just like the Crystal Geyser guy. If the customer decides to go with Sparkletts, Crystal Geyser doesn’t file for unemployment. If the delivery truck gets stolen, Crystal Geyser doesn’t ask the customer to buy them a new one. Similarly, like the Crystal Geyser vendor, you also have an implied warranty with your service.  If something goes wrong, your service is defective, you drop your Pepsi on someone’s laptop, it’s not a “My bad!” you are financially liable for that expense.  If your work is on the critical path of a project, be sure to talk to an insurance agent and your client to ensure you have the coverage you need.  If you own things – like a house – and want to keep it, you’ll need to incorporate.

You want to run a business?  Make big bucks?  We live in a litigious society. Don’t take chances.

Unlike W2 workers, your client will pay you every 30 days just like they pay all their other vendors. But, what if your client doesn’t pay you in 30 days? What if they pay you every 45 days or 60 days?  Or not at all? How long will you keep working without being paid?  A week?  A month?  Two months? How will you collect if they don’t pay?  What if they claim your work is defective, and they refuse to pay?   Similarly, who pays for your travel expenses? Are you putting them on your credit card and waiting for reimbursement? What if they don’t reimburse you or take months to do so? I’ve worked in big corporate offices my entire life: You’d be amazed how many rich companies don’t pay their bills on time.

If you can’t say no, can’t write a contract, could never see yourself suing someone, or all this sounds just too unpleasant for you, don’t waste time billing as an independent or incorporated contractor. I’ve listened to lots of stories (mostly from women I’m sorry to say) who thought they could handle this kind of relationship, and ended up being taken advantage of by someone who was really, really going to pay them as soon as <crisis> passed.

I can assure you that no one is more unpleasant than someone who owes you money.

When you bill as an independent contractor, you’re running a business. Why are you taking out a cash advance at 24 percent to pay your bills while your client (or worse, agent!) heads out to dinner with a full tank of gas in his BMW?

I can assure you that no one is more unpleasant than someone who owes you money, but when you truly work for yourself, you can’t put up with excuses. Other people’s bills and emergencies and sick kids are NOT your problem. Always track your hours and tasks; always keep copies of your work.  Be prepared to withhold work until you are paid for it.  Be prepared to walk off the job if you’re not paid on time, and be prepared to sue.  If you have a tough time sticking up for yourself, can’t handle people’s anger, or you’re afraid of being “mean,” being independent or incorporated is absolutely not for you.

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Excerpted from: The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker. Copyright 2017 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC.  All rights reserved.  No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. info@piercewharton.com.

The Vol-en-Told Analyst: Three Things NOT to Do

So, your <checkwriter> has determined you can’t afford an analyst for your technology project.  Instead, they want you to do it. (You? Have they met you?)  After Googling “business analyst,” and “elicit” you realize you’re even more clueless than you thought.  Worse, your PM and development team just asked you what the team should start working on….

I can’t teach you to be me, but I can tell you a few things I definitely would NOT do…..

Don’t Become Immersed in Current State

Resist the temptation to become (another) subject matter expert (SME). Chances are you’ve got lots of people in the weeds.  Ask them about the swamp; do not get in there with them. You’ll learn along the way…

Too often novice analysts (and insecure project managers) focus on mastering (and tirelessly documenting) the current state – as if having a Visio now makes it okay to finally get rid of it!  Business process owners are also guilty of the “let me show you ….” instead of providing an answer to your question. Steer clear!  If not, you’ll find yourself burning week(s) learning and flowing out someone’s job when all you really needed was agreement on a data set for the cloud architect.

Unless current state flows and docs are a specific deliverable in the project’s SOW, don’t waste time documenting system’s past. Focus your efforts on eliciting the information you need from your SMEs to define, build, and document future workflows, future components, future interfaces, the future.

Don’t Be Afraid to Assign Deliverables

One of core responsibilities of the team’s analyst to provide the infrastructure and artifacts needed by the appdev (and devops) team so they can build (and test) software.  That doesn’t mean that the analyst is the only person who has to write stuff down.

Every team has a different division of labor, and each analyst has a different style and approach.  Style notwithstanding, we can all agree that I cannot do a Vulcan mind-meld with the DB architect.  I need a schema and component diagram (regularly updated) regardless of how busy you are. Similarly, business process owners aren’t exempt from writing stuff down, either.  I need a list of the exact data points everyone wants retained.  Another demo of “how I do it now,” isn’t a deliverable.

The beauty of a Waterfall effort is that there are clearly defined inputs and outputs. The Gantt is not forgiving.  It shows everyone in the room if a gate is open/closed, and who/what is keeping that gate from closing.  The beauty (and curse) of Agile is that it’s much more flexible. Things requiring more discussion, bigger decisions, “grooming and refinement” can easily be re-prioritized in favor of backlog items upon which there is violent agreement.  As an analyst, you offer insight and best practice advice, but at the end of the day, deliverables codify key business decisions. I can’t make those for you.

Don’t Forget Whose Side You’re On

Whose side are you on?  The Development Team. Period. Why? Because that’s the team you’re actually a part of, and they’re the people doing the work (for you.)

If you’re new to being an software analyst, you will quickly see that your seat in the development team is to articulate the client/business vision.  That doesn’t mean you’re the client.  Conversely, when you sit in client meetings, your role is to be a relentless advocate for the development team.  But, that doesn’t mean you can make decisions or agreements on their behalf.  Being the “creamy filling in the Oreo,” can be difficult.  Empathy, and helping others to have more of it, is an essential skill.

The reality is that no matter how smart you are and how much you’ve thought about something, you’re going to make a mistake or mis-assumption.  Analyst’s mistakes are built into the code, seen in public – sometimes in really big meetings.  You can’t let your client blame the “stupid developers,” when you know full well your poorly written acceptance criteria was the cause.  If you throw your team under the bus – even once – you will quickly regret your lack of courage.

Final Thoughts

There’s a certain amount of frustration involved in the analyst psyche. You’re usually on a steep learning curve, and time is not endless.  You have to accept ambiguity (sometimes a lot of it) and push forward despite unknowns. Learn to say, “I haven’t gotten there yet,” “That was my mistake,” and “We can do it, but it will take more time and money,” and you’ll be just fine.

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Copyright 2017 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC.  All rights reserved.  No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. info@piercewharton.com.

Where are my RFP Responses?

In one of my management classes, a group activity was to prepare a Request for Proposal (RFP). The purpose of the RFP was to hire an event company to create and manage a 300-person company picnic. No other specifications were given — kind of like real life.

The teams set to work creating the RFP. Most assembled a list of basic information for the vendor such as a date, number of people, and budget. A few of the groups had specific requests such as a special theme or specific venue. After a half-hour of discussion, the groups were beginning to disband, all except for Detailed Dina’s group. Detailed Dina was the project manager for her team, and she was not going to be so sloppy.

Keeping her group well past the time allotted, she insisted that the RFP include a questionnaire, which asked for references, sample menus, descriptions of other events done, for whom, when, what was the cost vs. the final budget of these events. What type of picnics had the vendor done before? What kinds of themes? For how many? She also asked for credit and banking references, and a list of their subcontractors. Dina assigned each team member a portion of the RFP, and then offered to assemble the final product herself (so it was up to her quality standards). An hour after everyone else left, Dina was satisfied and exceedingly proud of herself. She demonstrated collaborative leadership, and was a team player by taking on the task of assembling the final RFP. Dina was confident her outstanding RFP would result in a superior picnic.

The RFPs were farmed out to the vendor groups. Among the ten RFPs presented, the teams needed to choose five to meet and three to respond.

After all the presentations and discussion were completed, Detailed Dina’s RFP was not selected. Aghast at the slight, Dina demanded to know why no one selected her event. The answer was simple. There were other clients, and her application was too much. Said one team, “I know it’s a game, but it was just so ridiculous….” The instructor tried to mix it up bit. Everyone knew that Detailed Dina has no interested vendors; therefore, whomever bid on her contract was guaranteed to win the business. Wouldn’t that be easier than competing against so many others? Would any team trade creating three proposals for her one?

Lesson #1

First, Detailed Dina made an amateur mistake: She refused to scale. It’s a picnic, not a shuttle launch. Dina was so fixated on her emotional need for data because she felt that more data would help her to secure a quality vendor. Unfortunately, this project wasn’t about data, it was about teamwork and goals. Dina lost sight of the goal, which was to form a relationship with a vendor (which she failed to do), and then manage the relationship (which she was unable to do), for the company’s benefit (which never happened).

This project wasn’t about data; it was about teamwork and goals.

And, while Dina was adamant that she had a far superior RFP, and was friendly and collaborative with her team, no one could argue that if this were real life, her leadership was a failure. Bottom line: They needed a team to do this event, and she was unable to assemble a team.

Lesson #2

This story is also illustrates the shift in the American labor market. You’re hiring a <jobtitle> to do <somethingforyou>, you’re not marrying the guy! Because Dina was in a position to choose and pay the vendor, her attitude was one of entitlement. They needed to “prove” themselves to her.

Your hubris is counter-productive to building a team

And, while we all seek qualified vendors (and it’s natural to feel a little entitled when you’re writing the checks), remember that you’re not the person actually doing the work. If you’re an employer, your attitude needs to be one of partnership, not entitlement. You’re hiring someone because you CANNOT do the work yourself. Your hubris is counter-productive to building a team.

The Conclusion

Dina was surprised by the silence that followed the easy offer of her business.

Dina immediately offered explanations of the rationale behind the formulation of her RFP. The teams quietly discussed the trade-offs of a relationship with Detailed Dina. With fewer clients it could be less work – initially – but since this was a “fixed-price” bid, what was the risk that Detailed Dina would be a difficult client who needed lots of attention, extras or changes? How would that effect the time they spent on this class project?

I think we all know what happened here.

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Excerpted from: The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker. Copyright 2017 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC.  All rights reserved.  No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. info@piercewharton.com.

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